Losing pregnancy weight while breastfeeding: not a myth
I was bothered by what Salma Hayek said on Oprah about women who lose weight when breastfeeding not eating enough and that weight loss while breastfeeding is a lie. I know from my personal experience that it isn’t a lie – I ate well, didn’t intentionally exercise (I took a lot of stroller walks), and still lost all of my pregnancy weight and then some. Many friends, relatives and others have shared similar stories to me. I do know, however, that many women do not lose weight at all while breastfeeding or not until their child weans. So I asked an expert, lactation consultant Catherine Genna, BS, IBCLC, about the weight loss. Here’s what she said:
People with gestational diabetes [like Salma] have a 33% chance of getting type 2diabetes in their lifetime, so their carbohydrate metabolism is alreadyproblematic. Type 2 diabetes rates are strongly linked to obesity,though genetics play a role as well. Breastfeeding protects women fromtype 2 diabetes, even 10 years after their baby weans. So there is a lotgoing on that we don’t fully understand.
Women are primed to put on fat during pregnancy to support lactation.Lactation is a fairly energy efficient process. The body changes the wayit does things (absorbs more nutrients from food, reabsorbs more calciumfrom the kidneys) to be more efficient while breastfeeding. The "old"studies that CALCULATED that women needed 500 extra calories a dayduring breastfeeding are likely responsible for some of the "not losingweight" during breastfeeding. We make up for the extra calories with ourfat stores and by reduced activity while we sit and breastfeed ourbabies. Studies that actually measured weight loss (rather thancalculating by some proxy measure) showed that breastfeeding women onaverage lose more weight than women who don’t breastfeed.
The big problem is that our bodies are designed for hunter-gathering,and we now have access to tons of food without having to walk or dig orhunt to get it. Being reasonably active after birth and eating a widevariety of foods with as little processing as possible (apples ratherthan apple pie or apple granola bars) will result in a healthier body.
Unfortunately in the US the cheapest foods are the most processed; themost fat, sugar and salt laden; and the least nutrient dense. This meansthat many people in poverty are undernourished even while they areobese. TV or video/computer games are the safest thing your kids can doin an urban neighborhood. They are inside, away from the dangers of thestreet. This promotes obesity too. Many of us were not breastfedourselves, which also affects our number of fat cells and ourmetabolism. Our social activities mostly involve eating, and sittingstill. We have a lot of Standard American Diet (SAD) to overcome beforewe can see how our bodies are supposed to be.
If you breastfed, what was your experience losing weight? Did you lose weight or hang onto it until you stopped? If you had gestational diabetes and breastfed, what was your postpartum weight loss experience? If you formula fed one child and breastfed another, what kind of difference did you notice in terms of weight loss?
Note: Please keep comments limited to the questions asked about nursing and weight loss, not about breast vs. formula in general. If you’d like to discuss Salma’s interview, please head to the original post.